Hurricane Irene eyes U.S. this weekend

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Packing maximum sustained winds near 100 miles per hour on Tuesday, Hurricane Irene is expected to strengthen and become a major hurricane, the National Hurricane Center said.

Irene is projected to skirt the east coast of Florida late Thursday and into Friday, possibly as a Category 3 or 4 hurricane, and head up the East Coast this weekend.

Forecasters say a low-pressure trough over the eastern United States is expected to shift Irene's track to the east, reducing the risk of a direct landfall in densely populated South Florida, but putting a bull’s eye on North Carolina.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission advised boat owners to secure their boats properly in advance of possible sustained heavy winds from Irene.

“Now is the time to properly secure your vessel to make sure it doesn’t break free and cause damage to property or result in people getting injured,” said Capt. Tom Shipp with the FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section.

Further north, the Coast Guard’s 5th District, based in Virginia and covering the Mid-Atlantic states, issued an advisory urging mariners and residents to begin planning and preparing for Irene. As the storm approaches, the Coast Guard urges people to remember basic safety guidelines.

The core of Irene was headed toward the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas as of early Tuesday morning, the hurricane center said. Hurricane warnings were in effect for the north coast of the Dominican Republic from the Haiti border east to Cabo Engano, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern and central Bahamas.

Irene hit Puerto Rico on Monday, knocking out power and downing trees, according to reports.

The Associated Press reported that officials on North Carolina’s Ocracoke Island on Tuesday had issued a mandatory evacuation starting Wednesday morning. There were no reports of deaths or major injuries, but 800,000 people on the island — including the capital, San Juan — were left without power by the storm.

Irene is the ninth named storm of the 2011 Atlantic hurricane season, and the first hurricane.

For information on hurricane preparedness, please visit the National Hurricane Center's Web page.

Several weather satellites in orbit have been tracking Hurricane Irene, beaming down amazing images of the powerful storm. Video cameras on the International Space Station have also caught views of the hurricane.